The Blind Leading the Blind
by Paul Hein
by Paul Hein
Federal Judge James Robertson believes the U.S. government is discriminating against blind people. He issued this pronouncement in the course of a lawsuit filed by the American Council of the Blind, against the U.S. Treasury Department, which he found to be guilty of violating the Rehabilitation Act, which Congress passed to ensure that disabled persons can maximize their independence and "inclusion and integration into society." Gosh, that's just grand, even if it sounds a lot like hot air.
The American Council of the Blind brought the suit because, it alleges, blind people cannot distinguish between one bill and another. In his order, Robertson claimed "It can no longer be successfully argued that a blind person has ‘meaningful access' to currency if she cannot accurately identify paper money without assistance." That's an odd choice of words. Has it EVER been "successfully argued" that a blind person can identify different denominations? If they could do it then, why not now? And what is "meaningful access to currency"? Does it have anything to do with eyesight? Well, that's the way judges talk, perhaps to give more weight and dignity to their lightweight opinions.
The American Council of the Blind suggests that U.S. currency be changed, with different size bills for different denominations, or the inclusion of embossed dots, and raised printing.
The government counters that such changes would be expensive, and render currency more vulnerable to counterfeiting, while reducing its acceptance by foreign nations. The judge, quite properly, in my opinion, dismissed these arguments as "fairly absurd." Certainly, if you can print "money," it can't cost you anything to do so, since the end product will pay all costs of production. Hence, the argument that the changes would be too expensive doesn't make sense. And why different size bills should be more vulnerable to counterfeiting isn't at all clear. And why should foreigners object? Many, if not most, of them use different size bills of their own currency.
But one can't help wonder how the blind have managed up to now. It depends, obviously, on what is meant by "blind." In most states, blindness is vision of 20/200 or worse. A person with 20/200 vision cannot read a newspaper or magazine, but he can make out headlines, and probably could see the large lettering and numerals used on currency for the denomination. If not, use of a magnifying glass would make determining the correct number fairly easy.
There are still many people, however, whose vision is worse: perhaps nothing more than the counting of fingers, detection of hand movements, or even just light perception. And for some unfortunate few — fairly rare, thank God, in my experience — not even light perception. These individuals certainly could not determine what's on a bill with any sort of magnifier. But they would not likely be in a position to need to: they could not go shopping unassisted, for instance, and if they had an assistant with them, the problem of handling money wouldn't arise.
How about making different denominations of currency different sizes? That's a quick and easy fix. Maybe too quick and easy. Blind people sell, as well as buy. Different sized bills would make it easier for the blind to know what they were tendering, but it wouldn't help at all in receiving money in change, or for payment for something sold. If the larger denomination bills were smaller, it would be simple to cut a ONE down to the size of a TWENTY. Alas, the U.S. would have failed again to guarantee the blind "inclusion and integration into society." If the opposite were true, and the large denomination bills were physically larger, why not just substitute a large piece of paper — say ONE HUNDRED size — for the real thing? If the unfortunate blind person could tell the difference, the whole thing would be unnecessary in the first place.
Raised letters or embossed spots on the bills? It would be simple to fake such embossing. I have, somewhere in my den, an inexpensive device which will emboss my name and address on the flap of an envelope. Just insert the flap in the jaws of the machine, and squeeze the handle. It would not be difficult to produce a similar inexpensive device to emboss dots, or FIFTY, or whatever.
The government moved to dismiss the case; Judge Robertson denied the request. (It's probably better to risk appearing air-headed than hard-hearted). The sad but true fact is that there are handicapped people in this world, and all the good intentions and simplistic solutions ever proposed will not eradicate their handicaps. Elemental, old-fashioned Christian charity in dealing with the blind would go farther than government action in coping with the situation.
Of course, if someone were to suggest Christian charity as a means of dealing with social problems, he could probably be charged with discrimination against Jews or Muslims—possibly even be accused of a hate crime! Current thinking is that there are no problems in society that are not the government's concern, and religious people ought to mind their own business — which is certainly not a concern for their fellow man! That's Washington's job, which it's happy to undertake, and which it does so well that we live in a time where all of society's problems have been solved, and utopia beckons. Well, sort of.
February 17, 2007
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